Brawling props, record crowds and X Factor
Crowds and early season fisticuffs provided the two main talking points from last weekend's two Super League games.
On a personal note, it was not the most impressive start to a Super League season either. I was late for the match between Harlequins and Wakefield at the Stoop, thanks to a seven-mile journey that took me an hour-and-a-half by car.
I must admit, I did fear I'd got kick-off time wrong. The ground looked half empty on approach, a concern given the Quins need to bolster their crowds to consolidate their Super League status. The club tell me they expect attendances to increase as the season progresses should their large-scale marketing strategy pay off. And with an average home gate of below 3,500, they will need to.
As it turned out, most of the punters turned up for the game later than me and the crowd of 3,688 was encouraging. By the full-time hooter that figure had risen to 3,690 after referee Ian Smith opted to send Richard Moore and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook to the stands. None of us in the press seats saw the brawl. Neither did the two coaches.
Smith hadn't got a clear view either. After showering, he dashed up to the television gantry to see if the cameraman had caught the melee on tape or if he, like the rest of us, had followed the ball and missed the fight breaking out in back play. It turned out the cameraman had missed the incident, too.
"What were the red cards for?" I asked Smith, on his day one of the best refs we've got. "I've sent Moore off for throwing a punch and Louie for retaliating," he confirmed. "I didn't fully see Moore throw his punch," he added, revealing that the touch judge had assisted the decision-making process.
Wakefield coach John Kear was very unhappy, marching on to the pitch for a word with Smith at the hooter, before nodding and walking off to salute the travelling fans. "You seemed to ask Smith for an explanation, nod and accept it?" I put it to John afterwards. "I nodded George," he clarified. "I won't tell you what we said".
Brawling prop forwards aside, what impressed me most about this game was the two young full-backs, Aaron Murphy, a surprise starter for Wakefield, and Ben Jones-Bishop, on a season-long loan at Quins from Leeds Rhinos. "Matty Blaymire's fit and firing but Aaron's a confident kid who has earned his chance" explained Kear.
Ben Jones-Bishop is tackled during the game against Wakefield
As for Jones-Bishop, I tipped him to step up and shine last year but Brent Webb never gave him a chance. He will flourish at Quins, until Leeds inevitably call him back. Power, strength, speed and a mature reading of the game, this kid will be a star. McDermott knows it, too. "I just hope this season-long loan does last the whole season," he told me.
Speaking of crowds, the 10,334 who turned up in Wrexham to watch Crusaders RL entertain the Rhinos was a cracker. It smashed the club's record attendance, but it must be sustained. The feel-good factor of a team in a new home coupled with the visit of the champions was always likely to draw numbers. The key now is to build on it.
Quite what Rhinos new boy Brett Delaney made of a snow-covered Wrexham after the lush Aussie Gold Coast, though, is another question entirely. Delaney left north Wales with six stitches in the back of his head and gravel rash to his face. Indeed, the snow was so bad the ball seemed to get bigger and bigger during the game, to such an extent that Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield suggested someone pop out to Sainsbury's to get an orange carrier bag to staple to it.
Delaney completed a culture shock of a weekend by taking in his first ever football match at Elland Road. Along with Danny McGuire and Luke "Biffa" Burgess, he watched Leeds United beat Colchester 2-0.
As for this weekend's action, the Rugby Football League hope it will bring a record average Super League attendance of over 60,000. I'll be among several thousand of those at Headingley to watch the Rhinos face the Castleford Tigers.
Wigan's game with Crusaders sees something of a Super League first as the Warriors take to the field with a committee of five captains rather than one nominated leader. Andy Coley, Thomas Leuluai, Phil Bailey and George Carmont have joined Sean O'Loughlin in the elite panel, taking it in turns to wear the armband.
Jedward will perform at Warrington this weekend
My BBC Manchester colleague Phil Kinsella spoke to former Melbourne Storm chief executive Brian Waldron this week about the concept of appointing a group of team leaders. It is a policy the Storm adopted in 2006 when Michael Maguire - Wigan's new boss - was assistant coach. Melbourne also rotated five captains, although Cameron Smith emerged as club skipper 12 months later and will lead Melbourne against Leeds in this month's Gillette Fusion World Club Challenge.
According to Waldron, one of the reasons for appointing a leadership group was to help with discipline. "We believed our players needed to behave in a socially responsible manner," he explained. "The leadership group would determine when players stepped over the line. When that happened, they would recommend to the club how they should be penalised. Usually, those players who stepped out of line were asked to attend sponsors events and so forth." So Wigan's sponsors beware!
The shared captaincy is a novel approach in the English game but is not necessarily a break with tradition. My pal Ryan Atkins told me how Wakefield created a similar support group to deal with tragedy and adversity last season.
Speaking of Atkins, he will be donning the famous Warrington Wolves colours for the first time in Super League when he makes his bow against Harlequins on Sunday.
Warrington look like being the biggest threat to Leeds and St Helens, as long as they can stay united. Atkins tells me there is a hilarious lovers' tiff developing between Richie Myler and team-mate Chris Bridge. The two are best mates but fall out every day on the training pitch in a manner Atkins describes as "like Jack and Vera Duckworth".
If fans of Coronation Street will be watching the Wolves, then X Factor enthusiasts will get a treat this weekend, too. Danyl Johnson, Jedward and Olly Murs will all take centre stage on Sunday when bumper crowds are expected at Wakefield, Hull KR and Warrington. Jedward are performing at the Warrington game which is unbelievably fitting, given Atkins is currently sporting a ridiculous haircut that really needs rethinking.